Virtual reality, cordless tools, and LED technology presented at the 2014 Assembly Show

Technologies designed to improve assembly line design, safety, and efficiency were presented at the 2014 Assembly Show held on October 28-30 at Rosemont, Ill. Virtual reality, cordless power tools, and LED technology are the focuses of the show.

By Joy Chang October 30, 2014

Applying concepts such as virtual reality, cordless tools, and LED technologies were among the topics discussed at the 2014 Assembly Show from Oct. 28 through Oct 30 in Rosemont, Ill.

A new virtual reality system was demonstrated for three days at the Assembly Show. The headset lets participants step inside a virtual world and experience the virtual environment with a wide 3D view. According to Mitchiyoshi Uyeda, associate research manager at Clear Seas Research, the platform is considered to be the next big thing for assembly line design and prototyping. A 3D virtual reality prototype can be tested by unlimited number of customers and get their feedback on what to improve.

"With this system, customers can experience 360 degree of the prototype at its early design stage. It saves millions of dollars on redesigning and testing the prototype. Virtual reality technology cuts the cost for assembly design, improves design quality, and reduces waste," Uyeda said. Virtual reality can also be used in different areas of manufacturing, for example, teaching welding in a safe environment.

Cordless power tools and ergonomics

Dave Garner, key customer manager for automation products at Desoutter Tools, addressed the importance of ergonomics, the freedom of assembly line workers, and how advanced cordless tools can improve plant safety and efficiency. With advanced technology, Garner envisioned that future assembly line workers can interact in a wireless workspace with cordless tools, the parts they are working on, and the assembly line.

According to Garner, when talking about ergonomics, the assembly line workers demand freedom and comfort while the manufactures demand product quality and the volume of production. For assembly line workers, their freedom encompasses the freedom from injuries, the freedom of movement, and the freedom of working independently. "That’s when tools come into the pictures. Tools are the unity of technology and human being, only with tools that provide the comfort and freedom to the operators; they can be the most productive and safe. For example, workers using one-hand tools are proved to be 30% more productive than those using two hands," Garner said.

On the manufacturers’ side, the right tools can improve product quality by making sure the torque is achieved, enabling cross-threading, avoiding missing parts, and controlling the process line better. Tools that are safer can save companies from spending money on injuries. According to Garner, $20 billion is spent on workers’ injuries in the US manufacturing sector every year.

Garner then talked about cordless tools, which detach workers from the assembly line physically and allow them to interact with the parts using wireless technology. "In the future, assembly line workers only need to carry a cordless, one-hand, wireless connected tool and wear Google Glass when working," Garner said.

LED technology adds visual guidance for assembly line operators

With the trend of flexible manufacturing and high-mix plant floor, LED technology might be the solution to avoid human operation errors and guide assembly workers to find the correct parts. "Manual and semi-automated assembly process requiring human participation can benefit from LED visual guidance to reduce human errors and improve throughput on the plant floor," said Victor Caneff, business development manager at Banner Engineering.

According to Caneff, the need for visual guidance on the plant floor is increasing with the implementation of flexible and integrated manufacturing that allows multiple product models to be produced with the same product equipment. Caneff introduced a technology called pick-to-light. The technology integrated sensors with the LED lights. Sensors will send confirmation signals to the enterprise system to indicate if an operator pick the right part or not.

The operators can see if they pick the right part seeing different colors of LED signals and hearing audio alarms when they mistakenly pick the wrong parts. LED lights can also be installed in the plant celling to project spotlights to direct operator to correct bin. "It is important to remember that there are process on the plant floor that require less automation, we need to make sure that these operators have the resource and guidance they need to operate in an increasing high mix, high volume, and sequenced plant," Caneff said.

– Joy Chang, digital project manager, Plant Engineering,